What did Mary Magdalene see when she entered the tomb of Jesus’ burial? It was still dark, just before dawn, so what she saw came from the torch she would have been carrying. We can guess that she saw the place on which Jesus’ dead body had been laid—by tradition, a slab of flat stone. And she also saw the cloths in which his body had been wrapped.
In the empty tomb, Mary saw evidence about the death of Jesus: blood stains on the cloths and slab; perhaps a lingering smell of death. But she had gone into the tomb not to see things about Jesus’ death; she had gone in to be with Jesus in his death. However, there was no body to be seen, no evidence of Jesus himself. She saw this, his bodily absence, and she believed in his risen presence.
All that had transpired over the three years Mary had known Jesus now made sense—the words he had spoken, the signs he had given, the actions he had taken. These pieces of his life with her, and hers with him, came together in that empty tomb. She saw and she believed.
Mary was the faithful witness in every way. She was at the foot of the cross and accompanied Jesus in his suffering. She saw his death and his burial. She remained faithful in those lonely hours afterwards, coming in the dark to anoint and be with him. And she was the first to encounter Jesus, gloriously risen. When all others had given up, Mary believed.
And in believing, she could not but tell this to others. Mary showed them how to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. She did not keep it to herself but sought to tell it to whoever would listen. If ever there is a trustworthy witness that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, then it is Mary Magdalene who shows, and tells, us it is true.
Today, there are very many who do not believe this. Contrary to the overwhelming evidence of Jesus’ life and death, many do not believe in his resurrection. Maybe, we are all a little like this—unsure of witnesses, not yet able to see, over-confident about ourselves, unconvinced or unwilling to believe. To this—to us—the risen Jesus says what he said to Mary: ‘Greetings, do not be afraid.’
This is the gift of Jesus’ resurrection: that we have not been left alone to face the hostility of the world. Jesus is with us in the midst of all that transpires in our lives. He greets us, holds us, remains with us. Jesus walks along the road of our lives, accompanying and assuring us of his presence. In his resurrection, Jesus gives encouragement, offers healing, shows the way to go. We are known and loved by him, so that we can know and love like him.
The resurrection God enacted in his Son opens the world to a horizon greater than anything we can manufacture for ourselves, taking us beyond those transient preoccupations which can consume our lives. Stepping into the resurrection of Jesus tears away the veils of darkness and opens us to the joy and hope of a life in him. This is what the resurrection of Jesus brings—if, like Mary Magdalene, we have the courage to see and to believe.
Banner image: Francesco Ribalta, Mary Magdalene before Christ’s Tomb, 1612.